The Violin Channel recently caught up with University of Michigan School of Music viola pedagogue, Professor Yizhak Schotten.
In a VC-exclusive blog, Yizhak discusses the importance of string students studying orchestral excerpts as part of their pre-college and college education.
“Teaching orchestral excerpts is an important part of my studio work. I feel that this study is essential for the students, not only for those who are preparing for orchestral careers, but for the other students as well. The excerpts from the standard audition repertoire include a very good representation of all the strokes that are important for bow arm technique, such as sautilłé, collé, spiccato, martelé, and more. These strokes are found in orchestral music in more concentration than in solo repertoire, so it is very practical to use fast excerpts to teach bow arm technique. In the slow excerpts, including some of the first chair solo passages, I have the students work on legato playing, string crossings and bow distribution. In addition, I emphasize the correct use of vibrato to enhance the sound, musical expression, and style.
Since the excerpts are short, it is a great way for the students to learn the discipline of practicing with a goal: to achieve the highest level of technical and musical results.
Preparing for an audition teaches the students how to strive for perfection, being relentless in pursuing perfect intonation and rhythm. Metronome work is essential in the slow as well as the fast excerpts. The students also need to pay attention to the smallest details and to produce the most beautiful sound, bringing out contrasts in dynamics and colors and always putting the music first. I often remind my students that many of these excerpts come from some of the greatest music ever composed. I encourage them to listen to recordings so they are aware of what is going on in the orchestra when they play the excerpts.
I have a weekly orchestral excerpts class, and whenever students are preparing for auditions, I teach them the excerpts in their lessons as well. At the end of every semester, I hold a mock audition for the students and give them comments. For some of my graduate students who are planning to have orchestra careers, I assign excerpts in lieu of etudes for their technical studies. I find this is a more practical way to work on certain technical challenges.
When I came to the United States to study with William Primrose, I was very fortunate that he spent a lot of time teaching me, among other things, his bow arm technique. Later studies with Lillian Fuchs were very inspiring and also helpful. She was a wonderful violist, but a very different player from Mr. Primrose. On many occasions she favored using the bow in the lower half, and I found it very useful in many of the orchestral excerpts as well as in the solo and chamber music repertoire.
Although Primrose and Fuchs did not teach me orchestral excerpts, their training enabled me to win section jobs in the Pittsburgh and Boston symphonies and then principal positions in the Cincinnati and Houston orchestras. Auditioning and playing in these orchestras as well as sitting on many audition committees gave me vital experience. This in turn contributed to my success in preparing students for orchestra auditions. You can find more detailed information on my Orchestral Excerpts CD, where I play and teach most of the standard audition repertoire. In addition, my recently released YouTube video, THE ART OF THE BOW ARM, has many references to orchestral excerpts as well.
A graduate of Indiana University, the University of Southern California and the Manhattan School of Music where he studied with William Primrose and Lilian Fuchs, violist Yizhak Schotten has served on the teaching faculty of the University of Michigan School of Music since 1985 | He is an active member on the American Federation of Musician’s Congress of Strings faculty – and is in demand giving masterclasses regularly throughout the United States and abroad
Orchestral Excerpts for Viola with Written & Spoken Commentary |CD|
Release Date: October 1, 2004